What is the differences between two passive voice sentences in terms of meaning? Which one is looking good or can be used?

  1. They can always be shown the door again.
  2. The door can be shown them again.
  • If you mean 'show someone the door' in the sense of 'ask them to leave', only the first one works. In the unlikely situation of literally giving someone the opportunity to look at a door, you could use the second! Jan 3, 2022 at 17:50
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    It's similar to the fact that the coarse BrE usage He's taking the piss out of you (He's making fun of you) can't idiomatically be transformed into Piss is being taken out of you by him, even though syntactically that's a perfectly valid transformation. Doubtless there are many other cases like this. Jan 3, 2022 at 17:58
  • Thanks @KateBunting. But totally confused. Aren't both sentence done by someone? I could use passive voice so far but I feel like I didn't know what passive voice is up to now. For example aren't these sentences mean the same? "They can be sent letter by someone." and "The letter was sent to them by someone."
    – user123960
    Jan 3, 2022 at 18:05
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    I recall someone once facetiously saying something like An old friend came round for a chat when I'd just made a bacon sandwich. Much fat was chewed ("non-idiomatic" transformation of We chewed the fat = We had a good natter). Jan 3, 2022 at 18:05
  • Colin Fine's comment below explains it well. In cases where an idiom isn't involved, you can say, for example "I was sent a letter" or "A letter was sent to me". Jan 3, 2022 at 19:14

2 Answers 2


idiom: someone is shown the door

Ergo: They can always be shown the door again.

The second one does not work.

It is the people who are shown the door. It is not the door that is shown to them.

The door can be shown them again. would mean: They are buying a door and want to see it again.

  • wow, even our edits are oddly similar... I saw you beat me by 10 seconds - wasn't sure if I should delete or not? +1 either way
    – TCooper
    Jan 3, 2022 at 17:53
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    @TCooper As you like. Fyi, though, the Brits do use: show x [pronoun] again. :) [I did not dv you.]
    – Lambie
    Jan 3, 2022 at 17:55
  • I hadn't caught that in downton abbey or top gear yet XD I added a qualifier to my answer to make the regionality of it more clear, and from that perspective, I think both are worth keeping. - I just added that because I realized I hadn't given you or the asker any credit yet. Your brevity (imo) makes your answer better.
    – TCooper
    Jan 3, 2022 at 17:57
  • I don't understand why second one does not work. For example: "The letter was sent to them by someone.". Is this sentence correct? If so, why the second one does not work.
    – user123960
    Jan 3, 2022 at 18:14
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    @user123960, it doesn't work because show someone the door is an idiom, and idioms are not always decomposable. As with most things in language, there is not necessarily any logic to this. Kick the bucket is a (rather dated) idiom for die, but the bucket was kicked by him is something that nobody would say except as a joke.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 3, 2022 at 18:55

From an American English perspective:

1., definitely.

2. would need to be "The door can be shown to them again."* - but that's still very unnatural sounding.

1. I assume is used as in "I don't care if Anthony and Susan are still mad about the seating arrangements. We kicked them out once before. They can always be shown the door again." Or, the usage in terms of "kicking someone out" / forcing them to leave. If it's meant to be a literal usage, neither is idiomatic.**

*I've been made aware that the "to" is entirely unnecessary in British English usage. It is very unnatural to an American speaker, although, I don't think the intended meaning would be lost **Except maybe the rare case, i.e. a door store's sales floor

  • why a downvote?
    – TCooper
    Jan 3, 2022 at 17:53

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